Summary of CEO remarks at first Changemaker breakfast, held at Addleshaw Goddard 9 July 2015

1              Introduction – Ten Years After Ten years ago we successfully applied to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for a grant to support the development of our policy and research.  Their funding finally ends in June this year.

In 2005 our objectives were to address: In 2015, much has changed, but many challenges remain:
Employer resistance to flexible working Flexible working is mainstream – business leaders talk about it (but don’t necessarily know how to implement it in their organisations), workers know about it (not necessarily how to get it, or whether they have a right to it), work-life balance is in common parlance   Flexible working may have delivered for some – e.g. maternal employment has risen over recent decades and female representation in managerial and professional jobs has risen – but the UK still has low levels of F/T female employment compared to other developed countries and P/T work is still strongly associated with low pay, poor progression, and sometimes insecurity in employment or hours.
Families’ need for money and time There is growing inequality in the workforce as there is a trend to hollowing out with a loss of mid-skilled, middle income jobs and a rise in high status, managerial and professional jobs and low status, low skilled jobs. Those in higher status jobs often have benefits of autonomy and control over working hours and how work is done whereas for those at the lower end, flexibility means what the employer demands and there are no benefits to the worker.   At all income levels work intensification affects worker wellbeing, productivity and family resilience   A fundamental shift is taking place in the benefits system, increasing pressure on parents and carers to earn more, mostly in a model which involves increasing hours of work, which may not be the best solution for the family
Gender stereotyping around caring and employment, leading to female poverty and loss of skills from the workforce Gender stereotyping also affects young fathers and constrains the choices which couples wish to make about sharing the care for their children   Ageing workforce means more people faced with grandparental and elder care responsibilities alongside their paid work.

We have been working on a repositioning of our policy and research work, recognising the success of twenty years on flexible working, but that the high level picture hides the complexity of working and caring in the UK today; the vulnerability of many lower income families; and the lost opportunities to business and public sector of flexibility poorly designed and implemented.

2             Changing political landscape and its implications

There is a new Conservative government – we can expect deregulatory challenges to employment protections and rights, although gender pay gap reporting regulations are being introduced; continuing challenges around access to justice, ET fees and cuts to legal aid and the advice sector; spending cuts and public sector job losses along with a possible attack on the public sector equality duty could undermine good practice in the public sector; challenges to the income of many disadvantaged and vulnerable families via benefits cuts and cap, universal credit, conditionality; continuing problems with affordability of childcare, despite proposals to extend free provision for three and four year olds, and the introduction of new tax-free childcare scheme. In Scotland (where we have a major programme of work funded by the Scottish Government – “Family Friendly Working Scotland”) there is a different landscape and policy priorities, much more in line with our vision – the narrative includes an aspiration to provide affordable accessible childcare from end of paid leave to start of school, “family friendly” working, and the social case for good work. In-work poverty is at its highest ever level, and the promised £12bn in benefits cuts will disproportionately affect working families. It will be more important than ever to advocate for disadvantaged families, be a voice for the vulnerable, to gather the evidence of the damage to family life caused by “bad work” and poor employer practice, and to argue for access to justice for parents and carers experiencing discrimination at work. There is work to be done on how to make flexibility meaningful for more people, to ensure access to the twin currencies of time and money.  This will include more attention to job design and workforce planning, and is an additional driver to engage with employers in sectors beyond the financial and legal services where we have built up much of our reputation and expertise.  It will be important to build on our voluntary sector partnerships and also to develop better and wider relationships with trades unions, both to contribute more strongly to the voice which will be needed for vulnerable workers and their families, and to enable us to work more effectively in unionised sectors. But the new UK government will respond to different levers.  We’ll need to provide evidence which will be taken seriously, messages which will resonate with the Conservative agenda.  Purely in Westminster policy terms, it won’t help to be perceived as a voice of opposition; and the new UK government is likely to be even less interested in evidence from the voluntary sector and trades unions than the Coalition was. To contribute to the reduction of in-work poverty, we shall need to use our reputation as business-friendly pragmatists and build alliances with employer bodies so that we can develop evidence about and be heard making the case for “work which works for all” – which we might define as allowing everyone to manage the ebb and flow of family changes, and to balance paid work with care in a way which is not harmful to their wellbeing or that of their family. In contrast, in Scotland we have the opportunity to work with the grain of the Scottish government’s policy agenda for working families, although within a constitutional and political context which may well change significantly during the lifetime of the new UK parliament. So – Three recurring themes will be reflected across our policy, research and campaigning over the next five years:

  1. The impact of working hours and patterns on family life, especially on family incomes and on outcomes for children, relationships and individual wellbeing
  2. The moral, social, economic and individual case for flexibility and work-life balance and how they interact, especially what good quality work looks like for lower paid, lower status workers, what is meaningful flexibility and how to achieve it
    1. Underpinned by continuing work for and with employers on good work design, balance for high performance
    2. Linking to and building on initiatives including Living Wage Campaign, Virgin’s “People, Planet and Profit” programme, the B-Corporation movement
  3. Gender equality – 30% Club has refocused gender on the corporate agenda – executive pipeline and women’s careers the next corporate priority, allowing us to address:
    1. Retention and progression in the workforce of women and men who have caring responsibilities.
    2. Barriers to employment for women and men with caring responsibilities.
    3. Pregnancy discrimination.

In addition, we will seek funding for a new programme of research – “It’s about time: a new agenda for flexibility”

  • Who cares? Who works? – dig down below the headlines, understand different patterns of work and care in the UK today. A lot of current thinking around family-friendly policy and practice has been targeted at the dual earner couple in permanent employment (typically professional/office based work) with the man as primary breadwinner and woman as primary carer. Need to understand differences in patterns of work and care by income bracket, employment status, family type, generations, occupation/sectors, regions, genders, generation and point in life course. This will enable us to focus on developing effective policy and practice solutions that fit the modern families and the modern workforce. Particular focus on low income and vulnerable workers, and self-employed. How does work impact on family life for those who have flex done to them, rather than benefitting from the greater control which it brings to professional and managerial workers.
  • Ask the cared-for, children and elders, about the impact of carers’ paid work on their lives. Seeking evidence about outcomes for families and for children’s life chances of different forms of paid work and arrangements for balancing work and care.
  • Flexible working – who really benefits? Workplace research to identify whether flexible working is delivering in practice for employers and/or for workers, and to identify factors that result in positive outcomes for both and factors that create stress and inefficiency.

3              Updates on legal advice service and children with disabilities work Legal advice service

Funding for this core and vital work is very challenging – cuts to legal aid and to advice services generally mean that there is greater competition and fewer sources of funding.   Also a general reluctance to fund telephone advice services, partly because funders realise that it is ongoing, not a discrete project – push to deliver advice via website, pressure to reinvent the service. We have carried out review and evaluation of the service – we know why we are here and who for – the annual report from the helpline illustrates the problems and the continuing desperate need, as well as the high quality of the service we deliver.  http://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/publications/rigid-flexibility-the-work-of-the-working-families-legal-advice-service-in-2014/  The advice we provide is tailored to complex situations.  ACAS for example gives objective and accurate information, but hard for the parent to apply to their own situation.  Frequent feedback – “you are the only people who could explain it to me”. Advice team is looking at how to build partnerships with front line services, and is exploring additional or different ways to get our info and support to the parents who need us.  The aim is still to deliver help and to more people (we help 3,000 pa but that’s just scratching the surface), but how we do it may look different in 12 months time. Children with disabilities – Waving not drowning Also very hard to fund – we don’t help the disabled child directly, which is where most funders put their money.  This constraint also affects our ability to fund the campaigning work which arises from the WND network and the biennial parent survey.  So we are keeping it going on a one day pw basis, with our project officer Janet going out and meeting parent groups, running a good facebook group, producing a monthly email roundup of news relevant to parents and the professionals who work with them, and a newsletter a couple of times a year. But we are looking to make progress on two issues in particular:

  1. “adjustment leave” – the idea that when a child is diagnosed with a disability or special need, they should be able to take a time out from work to adjust to new family circs. This is the point at which many parents, esp mothers, drop out of work entirely. Adjustment leave is now part of the conversation with employers and policy makers, was a key ask in our manifesto and is supported by carer and grandparent organisations. So it won’t go away – this is a long game to establish voluntary employer action and in the long term aim for legislative rights.
  2. Parent surveys consistently show that parents give up work even when they have flexible arrangements, because the unpredictability and lack of coordination between appointments which their child needs creates an impossible situation at work. We have good examples from the NHS where flexible working has been used by particular teams to improve things for the workers and also for the patients or service recipients. So we are developing ideas for a piece of action research and/or pilot, working with couple of NHS NEDs who are also worklife experts, and also the NHS Employers org. NHS faces huge challenges, David Cameron claims that flexible working will help them meet these – we intend to show him how.